Little cherry & almond cakes Spiced apple & date jam

I used to have an apple tree in my garden, so this jam was really born out of necessity. When thousands of cooking apples suddenly descended on my lawn within a two-month period, it forced me to start finding creative ways in which to use them. I am still perplexed as to why we don’t see more apple jam in the shops. Apples are high in pectin, which means an almost guaranteed set. They are frequently used in compotes for pies and crumbles, so why do we – a nation so enamoured of apples – not take the logical next step of cooking them that little bit longer, so that we can enjoy their sweet-tart flavour on our morning toast throughout the winter? This is my attempt to do just that. It captures the flavours of autumn in a jar: brown sugar, toffeed dates, soothing cinnamon, and the unmistakeable aroma of warm apples.

What Little Cherry & Almond Cakes Needs

Makes about 5 x 450g jars
1.5kg peeled and cored cooking apples (prepared weight), cut into 1.5cm dice
2 cinnamon sticks (about 8cm each)
6 cloves
1kg granulated sugar
400g light muscovado sugar
juice of 2 lemons
250g stoned dates, roughly chopped

What To Do

Put the apples in a large, heavy-based saucepan or preserving pan. Add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, both sugars and lemon juice. Heat gently, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until the apples start to release their liquid and the sugar starts to dissolve. Increase the heat and leave to cook until everything is watery. (Stir regularly to prevent the mixture from catching on the bottom of the pan and burning.) Put a small plate in the freezer (to test for when the jam is set).

When the mixture is boiling, lower the heat slightly and simmer until the apples have softened and the liquid has started to turn golden and reduce (you will still have some chunks of apple left, though – it shouldn’t be totally mushy) – about 15 minutes. Add the dates, then continue to simmer vigorously for about 30 minutes, until the jam begins to thicken. (Again, stir regularly to prevent the mixture catching – be careful and wear oven gloves as the jam will bubble volcanically.)

After 30 minutes, start testing for a set.

A sugar thermometer should reach 105°C, or you can test using the plate that you have chilled in the freezer: spoon a small dollop of jam onto it, leave to cool for 1 minute, then run your finger through it – if it wrinkles and parts cleanly, the jam is ready. If not, continue to cook for a few minutes more and test again. As soon as the jam sets, remove it from the heat (don’t overcook as the jam can quickly ‘turn’).

While the jam is cooking, sterilize your jars and lids. I do this by washing them well in soapy water, then put the jars upside down in an oven at 140°C/120°C fan/gas mark 1 for 25 minutes, adding the lids (also upside down) for the last 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the jars inside until you are ready to bottle the jam. You can alternatively run the jars through a hot dishwasher cycle, then pot the jam while they are still warm.
Decant the jam into the sterilized jars. Cover with wax discs, and seal with the lids. I have kept this jam for five or six years, unopened, in a cool larder with no problems, but once opened, keep it refrigerated and consume within a month.

The ultimate crumble

Sometimes, during an idle moment, I mentally rank my all-time top five dessert genres. (Crumble, cheesecake, lemon tart, sticky toffee pudding, tarte Tatin, since you ask.) I’ve probably made more crumbles in my life than any other dessert (and the number of them in this book is testament to that fact), but I really wanted to come up with a definitive version that exemplifies the very best of what crumble is all about. This is that version. The plums are just sour enough to contrast with the buttery topping, while ginger, anise, and orange bring out the plums’ robust flavor and create a deep purple syrup that bubbles up and caramelizes invitingly around the edges. Oats, spices, and tiny cubes of marzipan add crunch to the topping, and the whole thing is a perfect marriage of layered flavors and textures. This crumble is excellently made with blood oranges, when in season.

Also, You Needs

Serves 4–6
12 ripe plums, quartered and stoned
3 globes of stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped
2 tablespoons stem-ginger syrup (from the jar)
1-star anise halved
finely grated zest of 1 orange and juice of ½
60g dark brown soft sugar
1 heaped tablespoon cornflour
150g plain flour
90g cold butter, cubed
40g jumbo oats
90g marzipan, cut into 5mm cubes
90g golden caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon cold water or milk
Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5.

The Insructions

Put the plum quarters in a medium baking dish. Add the stem ginger and syrup, the star anise halves, the orange zest and juice, the brown sugar, and the cornflour. Mix well.
Put the flour and butter in a medium bowl and rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the oats, marzipan, caster sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and mix well. Add the water or milk and mix gently so the mixture turns ‘pebbly’.
Tip the crumble over the plums in the baking dish and spread it out to cover the fruit. Flatten it slightly but don’t press down too much.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling up around the topping and the crumble is golden brown. Leave the crumble to cool for 10 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream or custard.
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